Lydia in Taos

Lydia is a sophomore President’s Scholar with a double major in Spanish in Dedman College and theater studies in Meadows School of the Arts. She is spending the June 2009 term in SMU-in-Taos, where she will be taking plant biology and acting scene study. Then she plans to visit the city of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where her sister works with the nonprofit Food for the Hungry.

Last weekend in Taos: Hot springs and two-stepping

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When I was in Taos this past spring working with Habitat for Humanity on one of SMU’s Alternative Spring Break trips, we attempted to find one of the many hot springs along the base of the Rio Grande Gorge. However, we turned around on an almost empty tank after spending about an hour driving around and around in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, I wanted to correct our past failure during my month in Taos this summer.

And I proudly report success! Where we went is not far from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a popular tourist site and a spectacular view. About a lovely half-mile hike leads down from the parking lot to the hot springs, and oh how “Hot” they were! Man, my skin was just scorched from the lukewarmness of the algae-filled water … I took to peeling the algae off the side of the rock and playing with it in the water like I was 3 years old again, covered in suds and playing with my soggy ABC Bathtub letters…

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But anyways, perhaps more heated than the water was the conversation I found myself having with a middle-age man perched on his cooler just next to the water.

He nonchalantly stated, “I have an inquisitive mind…”

Already my interest was peaked, thinking, “Oh, do you?”

He continued, “Where do you guys think we are going?”

Umm… “You mean, the country? The government?”

“Anything, the question is out there.”

OK. This is gonna be good.

Sarah and Jordan gave their spiels on the world, and he responded with, “I don’t know what’s happened to us, you know? I mean, if you work for something then you should get what you worked for. If you put something out into the world, it should come back to you. It’s gonna come back to you. It’s like karma you know?… you’re gonna get energy.”

“Energy?”

“Yeah, energy. That should be the exchange in our economy. Energy.”

Hmmm, I’m thinking. “Energy. Can you eat it?”

“No, but it’ll keep you warm in the winter.”

“Oh, so you mean electricity.”

“No, energy.”

Right, of course. Silly me.

“Because the calendar tells us that some day long ago this guy died on the cross, and he payed our debts. So we shouldn’t have to pay any more debts, it’s all just a con.”

“Actually Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for a sense of spiritual debt, not the economic debt involved in capitalism.”

At this point Emilee is piling algae-covered rocks on Jordan’s leg, and trying hard not to laugh.

There was more, I assure you, but this blog is already long enough. I just find myself thinking, “Oh, the people you meet when you travel.” They certainly make things interesting!

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Saturday night we went two-stepping at an old wheat mill in Cleveland, N.M., about an hour from Taos. The mill itself used to be incredibly popular with the farmers, and was well-equipped to make white bread – all the oat and bran and “nasty” stuff went to the hogs. Pretty sure they ate better than the people did. But hey, wonderbread was wildly popular in my youth, so who can judge?

IMG_5073.JPG Every year the man who owns the mill, Dan Cassidy, holds an evening of barbecue and dancing. It was sooooooooo much fun!! There I was being swung about by the men in their cowboy boots and cowboy hats, thanking my stars that some friends had taught me to two-step, because it is incredibly delightful! Oh, the sweat!! With the sound of the brook mingled with the life of the band, we danced the night away. I cannot think of a better way to have spent my last weekend in Taos.

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Wheeler Peak!

IMG_4971.JPG The first Sunday of my Taos experience, I hiked up to Williams Lake with several students as well as members of the Taos community. I was told that the lake sits at about 11,000 feet, and that Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet, is another mile trail to the top. I was feeling pretty accomplished after the hike to the lake. Little did I know that two weeks later I would be climbing the peak itself!

Let me preface my Wheeler Peak morning with the fact that I had to drive six-and-a-half hours to and from Pueblo, CO the day before (and this after an eventful night of camping … ) to meet my mother in order to sign a form for the Congo’s new visa requirements. Why must a country decide to change things only a week and a half before we leave? Alas, I do not know.

What I do know is that I was tired, sore, dirty, and apparently going to climb a mountain the next day. Blessed be the mother who bought me and Sarah, my driving companion, an approximately 4-pound bag of Dark Chocolate M&Ms. Chocolate makes everything better.

IMG_4923.JPGSunday morning I found myself once again en route to Williams Lake. It is an even more beautiful hike by daylight! Most of the snow had melted, and mud had happily taken its place, next to the looming trees above and ferns below. We braked for about ten minutes at the lake. I munched on a few jalapeno potato chips. Mmmm, oily crunchiness has never tasted so good.

IMG_4928.JPG We inched our way through the last pockets of trees, using the clumps of grass as natural stairs. Lots of rocks and beautiful little flowers all over the place … more grass clumps. Grass clump after grass clump. How long is this hike again? Only a mile. Climbing rugged stairs for a mile. Phew. OK, I’m sweating now. Short of breath. Need water. Lots of water. Grass clumps, and more rocks. More rocks. No more grass clumps – just rocks. Big ones at first, like stairs. Smaller, smaller. Sliding rocks. Rocks that tell me if I put my foot in the wrong place, I will slide and tumble all the way down the mountain to my gruesome death. What? Oh, no, I’m fine. All right, here we go … more rocks … what are those animals that look like beavers? Marmots? Oh. Cool. I was just thinking “Chronicles of Narnia,” that’s all … more more more rocks!! God, You win. You totally win. You are waaaaay bigger than me. You’re HUGE. You’re like a million mountains bigger than me. Probably more than a million. Wow, my scope is small. Just keep climbing, just keep climbing …

IMG_4936.JPG Hiking is certainly a test of endurance. You can only have the joy of the peak by enduring the climb. And oh, what an incredible joy it is to cross the ridge, and see that, yes! Indeed, there is another side of the mountain! And it is possible to reach the top! I almost started crying when I found myself looking at the mountains below me and the miles and miles of land that stretch beyond, almost enough to see the curve of the earth. Tears not because I was worn out, but rather because I was exhilarated! However, the incredibly powerful wind would jerk anyone out of pensive thought, and remind them that they can still be blown off the mountain.

IMG_4931.JPG I was fifth to the top out of our 20-some odd crew. Not bad if you ask my tired body. Lydia Kapp=official mountain climber. Now I suppose I have some fourteeners to conquer …

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Italianos trail and camping in the rain

IMG_4833.JPGToday we hiked the Italianos trail in the Taos Ski Valley to an aspen grove. Not much needs saying concerning the hike itself, other than that it was beautiful!! Catching the trend in my blogs? Beauty is a big theme that my heart cannot seem to avoid rejoicing over time and time again … yikes, my language can get flowery. But Taos has so many beautiful places to see!

IMG_4845.JPGWe trekked through the trees and carefully crossed the little brook that streams down the mountainside. Every step was a Kodak moment. The trees stretched toward the sky like silent giants, simply waiting for their moment to sing in the wind. Sun flitted through the flimsy aspen leaves, sprinkling golden light on us mere humans walking below. Who needs skiing when you can hike? Thank goodness for seasons.

We stopped at the Taos Cow after our adventure and splurged on probably the best ice cream I have ever had. Let’s see, I’ve been there four times now, and every single flavor I have tried is delicious. Though I must say, the cinnamon is my favorite. If you ever come to Taos, visit the Cow.

IMG_4872.JPG Tonight was also my first time camping EVER. I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains in my life, but always with a bed and a toilet nearby. I cannot tell you how incredibly excited I was to spend a night under the stars in my sleeping bag! We rented camping equipment and made a trip to Albertsons to purchase goodies: hot dogs, buns, tortilla chips and salsa (YES!!), S’more supplies, and pancake batter, eggs, and sausages for breakfast. Our fire was lovely, and we had a great time munching, chatting, singing, and gazing at the stars.

IMG_4889.JPG A grand ol’ time … until it started pouring rain around 1:30 in the morning! We were sleeping out by the campfire, rather than in the tents, since we thought it was supposed to be a clear night. But by early morning the tents were filled with water! (Our equipment didn’t all match up … my fault?)

IMG_4898.JPG At 7am it was still raining. We packed (or better, we “rolled”) up our sloshing tents and made another fire. A miracle with how wet everything was! We were determined to make our breakfast in the rain! Pancakes and sausage dusted with a little ash from the fire are a delicacy. Yum yum!! I think I ate a lot of dirt in the process of this trip.

So, my first time camping, and it was kind of a disaster. But that is what made it all the more fun. I am learning as I listen to more and more camping stories, that it is the difficulties that are fun to retell – because we make it through to the other side of the clouds. And that feat is worth the rain.

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Ghost Ranch

IMG_4807.JPG The view from the road is spectacular. I climbed up into the front seat of the van so that I could roll down the window and take better pictures. We flew past the burning reds and oranges of the incredible rock cathedrals that adorn the sky.

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I do not think I have ever been more amazed by rocks than I have been these past few weeks! The sky was a perfect blue, and the clouds rolled in their own dancing time. Ah! What beauty there is to be had in the world!

My plant biology class hiked “Chimney Trail,” leading up to the edge of the cliff next to the tower-looking structure. As we went, Dr. Ubelaker lectured (whenever we needed a water break!) about the plants in the area as well as the rock formations that surrounded us. Ghost Ranch is a highly popular location for paleontology as evidence of multiple periods of time can be observed and studied in the rock.

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Ghost Ranch, NM is where Georgie O’Keeffe, perhaps one of New Mexico’s most significant artists, received much of her inspiration. She painted the astounding landscape over and over again, and her house, now closed and unavailable for visits, rests in the valley below the cliffs and mountains.

The view from the top of Chimney Rock is even more spectacular than that from the road. Looking out at the fields of rock and sagebrush and trees and water I could imagine caravans making their way across the Southwest. And I could even imagine the sky dripping pieces of turquoise, beloved by the natives… oh how I long to be a bird for a day! Simply to soar through the castles of rock… a bit dramatic? Well, I am a theater major.

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The ride home was equally gorgeous…. the beauty just never ends here in New Mexico.

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Bandelier National Monument (amAZing)

Lydia-IMG_4587-sm.jpg When I saw on my syllabus the word “Bandelier” for today’s schedule, I had no idea what it implied. But I packed my lunch, hopped in the van and enjoyed being chauffeured by my plant biology professor, Dr. Ubelaker, through the incredible New Mexican landscape. When he explained to us that Bandelier is similar to Mesa Verde, but significantly closer to where we are staying, I was delighted! This is the best science class ever. Lab hour = field trip!!

Lydia-IMG_4594-sm.jpgThe sheer height and pocketed personality of the cliffs struck awe into me as I stepped out of the van; carved into the volcanic tuff of the cliffs opposite the Jemez Mountains are the ancient dwellings of the Anasazi people.

From approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE, the pueblo people made their home in this valley. They would have farmed corn, beans, and squash, gathered native plants, and hunted game for food. But eventually, with the help of severe drought, the land could no longer support life and the peoples were forced to move.

What remain today are the ruins of that former life, first seen by Adolph F.A. Bandelier in 1880, and established as a national monument in 1916 (you can find more information here).

Lydia-IMG_4584-sm.jpgThe park has about a three-and-a-half mile trail that takes visitors through the valley and up and through the cliff structures. On the ground are the ruins of the pueblo walls where some of the tribes would have lived as well as kivas, or larger structures where important decisions would have been made by the pueblo people.

Lydia-IMG_4553-sm.jpg In the middle of every kiva is a “sipapu,” or a sacred hole in the ground that, according to ancient beliefs, connects the people to the worlds below, where the spirits of all living things exist together. The world we live in is the fourth world, and the sipapus lead to the third, second, and first worlds, where ultimately all life returns to be born again.

Walking through the park, these details of history come to life, and I found myself imagining the people, and how crazy it is that they actually really did walk and live and breathe in this place so long ago.

Lydia-IMG_4563-sm.jpg Part of the trail leads visitors up into the cliffs. There are a few ladders that people can climb to get closer to the rooms themselves, and at the end of the trail, there is a series of five ladders leading up 140 feet from the forest floor to a kiva built at the very top of the cliffs. The fact that the original inhabitants would have climbed the steep rock without any help from ladders, built-in steps and railings is an incredible feat.

The beauty of these dwellings, etched into the vast majesty of the cliffs themselves, will never be fully captured by any picture. But this fact did not keep me from trying! I took somewhere around 100 pictures during this trip.

Bandelier National Monument is gorgeous, and the scope of it is breathtaking. Perhaps, as all New Mexico license plates say, this state truly is the Land of Enchantment.

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Rainy days = warm drinks and good books

IMG_4487.JPG This morning I woke up an hour and a half before my alarm to the ping-pong dripping sound of rain on our roof. The simple act of lying in bed, listening to the water surrender itself, completed my day before the day ever began. I fell back asleep – it didn’t take long.

Due to rain, my plant biology class was cancelled, so I had an entire morning to myself! I savored my time sitting in the sun at the dining hall, and I savored the raspberries in my cereal. I love raspberries!! The dining hall has them every morning for breakfast! Which is fabulous, because in my family raspberries are a rare treat (when the tiny little box costs less than three dollars and still hosts healthy fruit).

IMG_4497.JPG Since it was rather muddy outside, I decided I would forgo my run in favor of another “Mocha something” from World Cup, where I could do a little studying and reading and eek! memorizing of lines. On my way to my car, I met three of the guys in my theater class who just so happened to be headed into town for their own Cup of the World. So we joined parties. The fog hovered over the mountains beneath thick gray clouds. It was beautiful in a delightfully gloomy way. And with my Mocha Mexicana in hand, I felt I deserved to be poetic and pensive.

The four of us went to Mainstreet Bakery, where we sat and enjoyed the live music of two excellent guitarists playing folk and blues off in a corner. This was turning out to be an excellent morning: delicious coffee drink, good friends, good locale, a soundtrack for my studying … ah, what bliss. We sat and studied and talked for about two hours and then remembered the parking meters.

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Two Taos Toms and a full moon hike

After going for a run and taking a much-needed shower (my hair still smelled like campfire from Friday night … ), I went to the Taos First Baptist Church on Sunday morning. It is a quaint adobe building stuffed with pews and warm hearts. Everyone was very friendly, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the service. Having the opportunity to worship God with people I have never met before is such a blessing. I felt like a part of the family. They even urged me to attend the potluck lunch after next week’s service!

Tom #1
Leaving church I filled up on gas, grabbed a Mocha Blanca from a local coffee shop called World Cup, and stopped at Wal-Mart to buy some hiking boots for a hike later in the evening.

A man in his mid 20s ahead of me in the checkout line pointed to the boots and asked, “Going hiking?” We chatted about Taos while waiting to pay and then very politely said to each other, “Well, have a great day?” “Thanks, you too!”

I swiped my credit card, smiled at the nice lady, signed on the digitalized line and found myself back in the parking lot when I heard a voice behind me say, “Hey girl!” I figured the “girl” must be me so I turned around to find the man from the checkout line walking toward me. He wanted to hang out sometime and gave me his number. “I’m Tom, by the way,” he said, offering his hand for a good shake. “I’m Lydia,” I responded, acquiescing to the typical gesture of meeting. “Nice to meet you.”
“Cool, well have a great day.” I got back in my car thinking, goodness gracious, that was weird.

Tom #2
IMG_4418.JPGMy friend Jordan and I went for a drive heading toward Cimarron National Park, but since we wanted to make it back to campus in time for the Sunday barbeque, we decided to visit a closer monument: the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial.

IMG_4410.JPGA beautiful white chapel sits on the top of a hill in the middle of what is called Angel Fire, N.M. David Westphall began construction on this chapel in honor of his son who was killed in Vietnam and in honor of all veterans and their sacrifice for their country. The view is magnificent, and a deep sense of heroism and pride radiated through the wind that tore at us as we explored the site.

A now inactive helicopter stands amid the flowers and trees as a commanding reminder of the reality of combat. In addition to the chapel, which is never locked so that anyone who ever needs to be still in its reverent walls may come at any time, there is a small museum housing tangible memories from the war: lists of POWs, pictures, medals, flags, books, etc.

One of the curators, an older man, explained to me the history of the memorial and the Westphall family. He and I talked for a long time, him telling me of the coincidences and details that brought the memorial together. You can find more information here.

Before leaving I said to the curator, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m Tom,” he said, shaking my hand. The coincidence of the name brought a smile to my face. “I’m Lydia. Nice to meet you.”

Full moon hike

IMG_4452.JPGSeveral SMU students joined the Taos community in a hike up to Williams Lake, which is at about 11,000 feet and 2,000 feet below Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in the area. We started about 7:30 p.m. and reached our destination about 9:15.

IMG_4471.JPGIt was a large group and not an easy trek. I was thankful for my new boots as we sloshed through mud and a sea of snow. As daylight trickled away through the trees, I would want to look at the incredible beauty that reigns in those mountains, but a rock met by my unchartered foot generally brought my attention back to the ground. It was AMAZING. I do not think I will ever stop being amazed by how beautiful our earth is.

We made it to the lake! It was an awesome view. And though we turned around to go back before the moon had fully come over the peak, the view of it from along the trail was one of the most majestic things I have ever seen.

Flashlight on the snow, I followed the feet in front of me and we arrived safely back down the mountain. I felt like a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, hiking at night through dangerous terrain.

It was a moonlit adventure for my epic heart.

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Welcome to the Summer of Love!

IMG_4339.JPGTaos has themed summers every year, in order to pull in tourists and to provide fun entertainment for the community. This summer the theme is the “Summer of Love!” in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. All summer long there are fun events that people can attend.

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Today was the Hippie Dippie Parade! Yeah! My friend Sarah is doing an internship at the Taos News, which sponsored the parade, and she invited me to join her and the news staff in sharing a little summer love and some free papers with the crowd. So I dressed up in my best hippie outfit, and we headed into town!

IMG_4367.JPGThe Taos News people rock, let me just say that point blank. They were incredibly welcoming, and their costumes far outshined mine and Sarah’s. Our friend Trigg’s only hippie accessory was a tie-dye sheet around his head, but the fact that he can juggle newspapers while walking down the street made him pretty much the most popular parade celebrity. The Taos News staff voted him MVP, and told him they expect him to be at every function they attend.

IMG_4350.JPGI think I love parades because my mother loves parades, and I inherited that gene from her – I am most grateful to you, mom! However, it is so much more fun to be IN the parade, rather than just watching! There I was, a Coloradoan, jogging down the streets, shouting gleefully, handing out free newspapers, and in all senses pretending to be a New Mexican hippie. SO MUCH FUN. Huge painted buses, people everywhere, horses, candy, and some of the most ridiculously amazing clothes I have ever seen in my entire life. Give my regards to Taos; they know how to have a parade!!

After returning to headquarters and putting all our props and such away, the entire news staff went out to lunch at Ogelvies in the Taos Plaza, telling us we had to join them because “Chris” was paying. So not only did I get to be in a parade, but I got some awesome chicken mole! Only to be followed by the most delicious cinnamon ice cream courtesy of the “Taos Cow,” a cafe and deli on the road to the Taos Ski Valley.

Taos has so much to offer. It may be a small city, but it has a big heart, and I feel honored to have been welcomed into the Summer of Love.

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The beautiful drive to Taos

IMG_4210.JPG Prior to this past Wednesday, I had never driven more than two hours by myself. Now, however, I can proudly boast having road-tripped from Denver, CO to Taos, NM! – about a five-and-a-half-hour drive through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

IMG_4244.JPGAccompanied by six specially-made-for-me CDs, courtesy of a best friend, I set out. Good music, windows down … life is great. There is something marvelous about being allowed to drive 75 miles an hour – agreed?

My mother seems to look down upon my having taken pictures while driving at such a speed, but how could I not? Still, no picture will ever capture the scope of the enormous and majestic Western sky. I even prayed, asking if God would perhaps allow me to capture an image of His magnificent lightning inside my little picture box … but either He declined, or my timing was off.

IMG_4274.JPGAlas, no pictures of lighting but far too many of the BEAUTIFUL landscape. Those five and a half hours flew by.

Now as I sit in my “Casita,” one of the adobe cabin-like buildings that serve as the dorms on the SMU Fort Burgwin campus, I am amazed at how easily I made it here. Really, I could traipse across the country via my car and make it to practically anywhere on the continent … Next summer! Of course, then I would need more CDs … but I’m sure that could be arranged.

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